American Newsrooms Are (Still) Too White

Recent newsroom snafus — yet again — highlight a stark problem in journalism: the media industry doesn’t reflect the audiences they serve.

Vignesh Ramachandran

June 10, 2020

American Newsrooms Are (Still) Too White
The New York Times newsroom, pictured in 1942. (Marjory Collins/U.S. Library of Congress)

Newsrooms are among the least diverse workplaces in America — and it shows.

Walk into many print, broadcast, and digital outlets in the United States, and more than three in four newsroom employees (77%) are non-Hispanic whites. As journalists rally around covering nationwide protests after George Floyd’s murder, recent snafus are highlighting the lack of diverse editorial staffing, further weakening the public’s confidence in a field that most Americans already don’t trust.

The last week has been a wake-up call for many titans in American journalism.

The New York Times’s opinion editor resigned after the paper published an op-ed that called for military intervention to the ongoing civil unrest. “Please know that there are many (if still not enough) of us working like hell to hold our institution accountable each and every day,” John Eligon, a Black Times reporter, tweeted about the controversy. “Not only by speaking out against missteps, but by working to produce journalism our communities (and our country, really) deserve.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s top editor resigned after the news organization published an insensitive headline proclaiming: “Buildings Matter, Too.” Nearby, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is facing criticism for barring a Black reporter from protest coverage because the paper claimed one of her tweets was biased. Bon Appétit’s editor-in-chief resigned after a photo surfaced in which he wore brownface. Women of color who worked at Refinery29 have spoken out against “a toxic company culture where white women’s egos ruled the near nonexistent editorial processes.” The site’s top editor stepped down. Variety’s editor-in-chief is on a two-month administrative leave after her newsroom reacted to her calling an entertainment reporter “bitter” in a Twitter exchange.

Newsrooms must take — yet again — a hard look in the mirror as they stand accused of failing on the very dimension on which they often report: the lack of diversity in workplaces.

While the flurry of recent controversies is forcing publications to reflect on their staffing and leadership, American newsrooms have been grappling with diversity issues for decades. In 1968, the Kerner Commission — formed after President Lyndon B. Johnson asked for an investigation into racial conflict — reported on a finding that’s still relevant today: “The journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, and promoting Negroes.”